Mr. Cushing to Mr. Fish.
Madrid, June 19, 1875. (Received July 8.)
Sir: In meditating on the aspects and chances of existing relations between the United States and Spain, which, subject occupies me by [Page 1124] preference the whole time, my thoughts naturally turn back to the antecedents of the subject in the past intercourse of the two governments.
It did not need this retrospect to satisfy me that, next to England and France, and perhaps next to England alone, Spain, (including her colonies in America,) has been and still is the point of capital interest for the United States. In the discovery of the New World, in the successive stages of its colonization, in the political vicissitudes its various parts have undergone, in its relation to other European governments, and especially in proportion as their power in America has diminished and ours has increased, the political condition of Spain, its interests and its purposes, have necessarily attracted the attention and acted on the public policy of the United States.
To these considerations, it seems to me, it may be attributed, in part at least, that so much of the national literature of the United States, and some of the best of it, has been dedicated to Spanish history, as exemplified in the conspicuous cases of Irving, of Prescott, and of Ticknor.
The United States and Spain were associated together in our war of Independence by the voluntary act of Spain. That association continued to be a necessary one while the greater portion of America, including our entire southern frontier, from ocean to ocean, remained subject to Spain; and the same necessity must last so long as Spain continues to hold her present place in the West Indies.
There has been continuity of identical cause for all this from the beginning to the present day, so as to make the study of that cause and of its effects in all the periods of our common history, and through all its shifting manifestations, a matter of supreme interest to the United States.
I feel oppressed, in reflecting on these facts, by the sense of the magnitude and importance of our Spanish interests, commercially and politically, with unavailing regrets that incidental and transitory questions are so much in the way here of large measures of advantage to the United States.
I solicit indulgence, then, for the present cursory review of our diplomatic relations with this country, regarded especially in the light of the professed public policy and inducements of action of Spain herself in the successive reigns of Charles III, Charles IV, Ferdinand VII, and Isabel II.
Ample means to appreciate the character of Charles III generally, and the secret springs of his policy toward the United States, are to be found in the works of two historical writers of authority, D. Andres Muriel and D. Antonio Ferrer del Rio. We thus learn not only what Charles and his ministers declared in official dispatches, but also what they thought and said in the most intimate councils of the king’s cabinet.
Charles, it is now clear, did not resolve to take our part, as many have supposed, solely or mainly in obsequiousness to France, or in execution of the treaty of alliance between the Bourbons, commonly called the “family-compact.” His real springs of action lay much deeper even than those of France.
Charles III, although not a brilliant prince or a good soldier, was endowed with singular simplicity and uprightness of character, earnest in the performance of public duty as a sovereign, but animated with [Page 1125] still profounder convictions of dignity, conscience, and good faith as a man. He would say that such a thing might be politic for a king to do, but not fit for Carlos.
Thus, for the space of twenty-nine years, he governed Spain as an absolute prince, but with two objects constantly before his mind—the good of Spain and the personal integrity of her King.
During these years it was the dream of his life, by day and by night, to recover Spanish territory, of which, as he conceived, Spain had been feloniously robbed by England, especially Jamaica and the coast of Honduras, and Florida in America, Gibraltar and Minorca in Europe. In this fact we have the key to all his foreign policy; add to which, that he never forgot or forgave the violence done to him by England whilst he was King of Naples.
Nevertheless, although England was affording cause enough of war by her acts in Spanish America, Charles did not act precipitately nor yield to the combined instances of France and the United States until after protracted efforts to persuade the British government to enter into negotiations with the thirteen colonies, ample evidence of which appears in the Secret Journals of Congress, (Ex. gr. II, 301.)
Charles III then engaged actively on our side in the war of Independence, and with decisive influence. For the indefatigable efforts of Spain to recover Gibraltar, and her actual success in regaining, by force of arms, Minorca and Florida, and in breaking up those attempted conquests of England in Cam peachy and Central America, founded on the phantom monarchy of the Mosquito Indians, which have reappeared under the same pretensions since in controversy between Great Britain and the United States, contributed potentially to compel the British government at length to recognize the independence of the United States, and to make peace with us and with our allies. (See Cantillo’s review of the negotiation and its results, Tratados, p. 577.)
Spain, therefore, issued from that contest triumphantly, to all appearance, with room for doubt only whether it was wise, on her part, considering the magnitude of her own colonies in America, to set before them the example of the successful revolution of the United States.
If we lay aside as of doubtful authenticity the celebrated letter attributed to the Conde de Aranda, no reason will appear for inculpating the policy of Charles III on this account, earnestly as that side of the question is presented by D. Andres Muriel. Our example was not regarded at that time as being so contagious as it has been since; in point of fact, other important British colonies, which might have been supposed to be specially subject to the contagion, refused, and still refuse, to follow our example. And the better opinion in Spain is that the revolt of her American colonies is to be attributed, not to the contagion of our example, but to the dissolution of all metropolitan authority in Spain by the invasion of Napoleon, and that Great Britain did more than the United States to effect the ultimate complete separation of the Spanish colonies of America.
Such is the opinion of D. Antonio Ferrer del Rio.
At any rate the hypothesis of the indirect influence of the United States in the loss of her American colonies to Spain is so purely argumentative, and that of the direct influence of France and Great Britain is so plain and palpable, that no grudge against us in this respect seems to exist in Spain, and the consideration does not seem to have operated to our prejudice in any of our negotiations with the Spanish government, which is the important point for us.
These conclusions, favorable to us, are confirmed by the whole tenor [Page 1126] of the-remarkable paper entitled “Confidential instruction for direction of the council of-state,” signed by Charles III in 1787, and made public in 1839 by D. Andres Muriel. This document shows no fear of the political example of the United States, but warns against the aggressive tendencies of our frontier population, and on this account suggests particular measures for the protection of Louisiana, Florida, and New Mexico; apart from which the “instruction” devotes only a single brief chapter to the United States, as follows:
CCCXIV. United States of America.
With the other princes and potentates of Africa, Asia, and America, we have no interests calling for particular instruction. I have intimated elsewhere, in treating of the affairs of the Indies, what ought to be done and the conduct to he followed as respects the United States. We should handle them with policy; treat them well where to do so would not involve grave inconvenience, and favor them against whoever may seek to injure them. In matters of commerce we can concede the same to them as to the most favored nation, but that should be after regulating the boundary with our Floridas and assuring the exclusion of their issue by the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. For the rest, the discords which reign in those States, by reason of the inquietude of the inhabitants and their love of personal independence, are favorable to us, and will always be cause of their debility.
Neither the Caude de Florida-blanca, in writing these words, it is manifest, nor Charles III in adopting them as the line of policy of himself and his successors, had any misgiving respecting the example of the United States. On the contrary, the general spirit of the “instruction” is one of well-considered friendship and good-will toward us, notwithstanding what it says on the subject of the navigation of the Mississippi, possessed on both sides (in its lower course, at least) by Spain.
In the Memoirs, written by or for D. Manuel de Godoy long after the events to which they refer, indications exist of a disposition to criticise the policy of Charles III in regard to America, but nothing of this sort appears in the negotiations with the United States by the Principe de la Paz as the all-powerful favorite and minister of Charles IV.
Those negotiations were conducted in literal conformity with the spirit of the “Confidential instruction;” that is, in friendliness and even favor toward us, but with special attention to the boundaries of Florida, and persistent solicitude to keep shut against us the mouths of the Mississippi.
At that epoch, to wit, during the administration of Washington, the question of boundaries on the side of Florida had not become, practically, a very serious one to us, but the new populations on the banks of the Ohio, the Kentucky, and the Tennessee began at once to call for navigable access to the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans.
For a long time the opposite pretensions of the two governments appeared to be quite irreconcilable. Neither Mr. Jay and Mr. Carmichael at Madrid during the continuance of the war of independence, nor Mr. Jay at Paris at its conclusion, nor Mr. Carmichael or Mr. Short afterward at Madrid, could overcome the objection of the Spanish government to opening the Mississippi.
But the progress of the French revolution produced a decisive change in the views of the court of Madrid. Spain found herself involved in war with France without being able to count on any alliance for the security of her vast transmarine possessions, except the very doubtful one of Great Britain. Meanwhile the United States imposed restrictions on the commerce of every power with which they had no treaty. They [Page 1127] were not bound by any express convention to respect the territorial rights of Spain, and their people were threatening to take forcible possession of the navigation of the Mississippi.
In these circumstances D. Manuel de Godoy invited a resumption of negotiations for the settlement of all pending questions between the two governments on condition of the guarantee by the United States of the integrity of the Spanish possessions in America.
Hence came the mission of Mr. Pinckney and the conclusion of the treaty of 1795, in which the United States succeeded in fixing all the essential clauses as they desired, and without entering into the proposed guarantee, notwithstanding the great reluctance of Godoy to yield the point of a commercial depot at New Orleans.
In considering how long a period elapsed before any treaties of the same comprehensiveness were concluded between Spain and other powers, and that even to this day her commercial relations with Great Britain stand on less advantageous treaty-terms, it seems but just to recognize on this occasion the influence of the kindly sentiments of Charles III toward the United States.
Nor did the same influence fail to be felt during the reign of Ferdinand VII, disturbed as our relations were by the revolutionary movements in Spanish America, in regard to which the acts of mercenary intermeddling on the part of many persons in the United States were dishonorable to themselves and embarrassing to their Government.
In the midst of all which, however, we succeeded, thanks to the persistent good intentions of Spain, in negotiating the treaty of 1819, which not only liquidated all reciprocal private reclamations, years before we reached the same result with some other European governments, but also assured to us the acquisition of the two Floridas and the safety of our frontier on the side of the Gulf of Mexico.
It is to be remembered, also, that although Spain felt deeply wounded by the breach of faith committed by Napoleon in transferring Louisiana to the United States, yet she made no issue with us on that point; but, on the contrary, impliedly confirmed that act in the cession of the Floridas.
As well in the cession of Louisiana to France, as in that of the Floridas to the United States, we have direct contradiction of the assumption, so frequently put forward in argument by Spaniards of late, that Spain cannot part with any territory without forfeiture of honor. While such an argument might be plausibly sustained in regard to the European territory of Spain herself, it is of little force as applied to untenable possessions in America.
Accordingly, D. Andres Muriel, while he so vehemently impugns the general policy of Charles III toward the United States, yet emphatically approves the act of Ferdinand VII in ceding to us the Floridas.
Arrived at this point, nothing would remain but the relations of the United States to Cuba and Puerto Rico, the remnant only of those great American questions which brought the United States and Spain into association at the outset, and have so continued them into the present day.
Thus it is that D. Facundo Goñi, afterwards Spanish minister at [Page 1128] Washington, in his “Treatise on the International Relations of Spain,” published in 1848, refers to the United States in the following terms:
The first of the independent peoples of North America to which we are allied by treaty-is the Republic of the United States, which was also the first European colony which proclaimed its emancipation from its mother country, England. As early as 1795 we celebrated with the United States a treaty of peace and friendship, commerce and definition of boundaries between the territory of that republic and of the Eastern and Western Floridas, which then belonged to Spain. We subsequently celebrated with that Republic certain other treaties on incidental matters. Of this nature was the one concluded on the 11th of August, 1802, to determine the reciprocal indemnification for damages sustained by both nations during the war of the preceding years, which treaty was not ratified at that time because of various differences which arose between the contracting parties, and its ratification was only accorded as a preliminary for the adjustment of another of peace, friendship, and boundaries, signed at Washington in 1819. Finally, on the 17th of February, 1834, was celebrated the last convention for the arrangement of certain reclamations of the United States. To-day our relations with that Republic are amicable; but we ought to regard it as one of the most formidable enemies to our Antillas, because, even after having attained an already colossal aggrandizement, its tendencies toward extending itself on the Gulf of Mexico are well known.
Of the great residuary question of the Antillas, involving commercial interests of the highest importance as well as political, it would be out of place to speak here, in this paper, designed only to bring into view the conspicuous traits which have characterized the antecedent relations of the two governments, and the definite friendly direction imparted to those relations by the wise and upright King Charles III.
I have, &c.,